Teen Suicide Red and Yellow Flags Parents Need to Know and Tips to Help Teens Cope

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Playing Red and Yellow Flags Parents Need to Know to Help Prevent Teen Suicide

Parenting expert Dr. Deborah Gilboa and adolescent psychologist Dr. Jen Hartstein share what parents can do if they are concerned about their child, and worried they may be contemplating suicide.

What to do if you see red flags: 

Dr. Gilboa shares that if you see red flags like a drastic personality change, withdrawing from family and friends, or potentially violent behavior, do not be ashamed to reach out for help. Call the emergency department psychiatric ward of your local hospital, your kid's doctor, or counselor, but Dr. Gilboa warns to call until you get an answer or some help.

Dr. Hartstein shares that often parents are afraid their kid is going to be mad at them, but it's better to have your kid alive and angry at you, than the alternative. 

What are yellow flags: 

Dr. Hartstein shares that parents often dismiss yellow flags as typical teen behavior, but they are indicators that something might be happening with your teen. She warns parents that if your gut is telling you something is off, you want to ask questions about it. 

Dr. Gilboa shares that parents don't have to be an expert in diagnosis, but you are an expert on your child. If something feels wrong -- even something good -- if it surprises you, it should make you curious. Dr. Hartstein agrees, sharing that even a slight shift in mood should be something to warrant a conversation. Ask your child about it and even if they get annoyed with you, that's okay. 

What parents should do if they see yellow flags: 

How would a parenting expert approach it? Dr. Gilboa says, "Hey, I'm curious, I see this difference, and I want to know more about what's behind it. How are you feeling? Are you okay?" The goal should be to just listen and for them to know that however, they are feeling matters to you. 

How can you help your kid deal with uncomfortable emotions: 

If you're not worried about your kids right now, is there anything you can do to strengthen your communication, your relationship for when you are worried? Dr. Hartstein shares the most important thing is to be talking. In the age of devices, you really need to create opportunities for conversation. Here are some tips from both experts: 

  • Connect with your kids about their feelings 
  • Identify what helps your child when they are feeling upset 
  • Figure out with your child a way to manage their feelings when they get upset

Dr. Gilboa and Dr. Hartstein also share that it's easy for parents to want to solve all their kid's issues, especially by sharing their own experiences. Instead, they recommend: 

  • Listen to their issue and ask permission to share your own experience with them. 
  • When your child is sharing their feelings, ask, "Would you like empathy, advice, or intervention?"

Learning to manage your discomfort is a very powerful tool. Dr. Hartstein says she asks her teen patients to consider "how do I get through this moment without making the moment worse." This year has taught us there will definitely be a time when we feel miserable. It's important we all learn to navigate pitfalls and disappointments. 

Watch: Build Your Teens Resiliency to Help Them Navigate Hard Emotions

For more information and resources on suicide prevention, call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at (800) 273-TALK, or visit The Suicide Prevention Resource Center website or Text HOME to 741741 to connect with a Crisis Counselor.